Two-dad family has plenty to celebrate

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Their battle for legislation to allow them to marry following seven years in civil partnership made national news for Paul and Michael Atwal-Brice last year.

But the couple now have a July date for their nuptials, and plan to involve adopted twin sons Levi and Lucas heavily in the proceedings.

They are also thrilled to be starring in a new four-part series to be televised later this year, featuring the extraordinary relationships between fathers and sons.

Their great summer celebration will include scores of their sons’ friends - it will be an all-inclusive, stress-free occasion for everyone, said Paul, 37.

The twins have conditions of autism and epilepsy, so many of their pals have challenging illnesses too. “All too often these kids don’t get to share formal occasions because people don’t want noise or bother,” said Paul. “We just want everyone to relax, have a good time and feel the love.”

The Atwal-Brices in a good place right now. Since they adopted two year olds Levi and Lucas (the twins are now nine) they have simply had to grit their teeth and fight for so much...

“Being full-time parents of children with special needs or disabilities is not like mainstream parenthood,”, said Paul. “You face hurdles at every turn whether with equipment, access to places or finding the right medical and educational provision.

“Our life, our journey together has been a rollercoaster and it still is. But we would have it no other way. These boys are our world and we will always do the very best for them that we can.”

He continued: “We did not realise the severity of their disabilities at first. We had to learn how to give the special 24 hour care that they need. Our GP says there is a place in heaven for us, but we aren’t superparents. We are tunnel-visione. We love the boys unconditionally and they come first. It will always be so. Children with disabilities light up lives just as others do. With the lows come great, great highs.”

This month brought them great news, in that Levi and Lucas have finally been granted places at their school of choice near to their Thurnscoe home. The twins begin at the Robert Ogden School in June, after four years of pressure on the authorities from their determined dads. During that time Paul and Michael have transported their sons to and from an out of area school that is currently in special measures, and have often made several daily journeys due to one child being taken ill suddenly, as can happen with epilepsy.

“We meet every challenge because our passion is to do what is best for the boys,” said Michael. “We feel that children get one shot at education and we as parents have to ensure they get the right provision.

“Every tiny step they make is massive to us and cause for celebration. Epilepsy can knock development back which is awful.”

“If there is one thing we could change it would be to get rid of the epilepsy,” added Paul. “With autism you can understand situations and control them, or remove the boys altogether. But with epilepsy it can only be controlled to a degree.. it is hard to come to terms with. Medication changes as the boys grow older.”

They puzzle at people’s reactions to autistic children. “Not all disabilities are visual and people should not prejudge, A sensory overload can result in behaviour which is not naughty, but is a reaction,” said Paul.

Prized possessions are the boys’ special bikes funded by the charity Action for Kids, a help that the men can not praise enough. The expensive, adapted bikes allow them to ride out as a family. Money is scarce as both dads had to give up work to become carers.

Another hard-fought battle was won after the family challenged blocks to their favourite cycling route, placed to stop nuisance but also denying access to users that needed it.

Paul and Michael’s long awaited special day in July will be in Barnsley. “The boys will pass us the rings in the service,” said Paul, “ and our old ones will be given to each of them.

“The boys’ buttonholes will be the same as ours but with tiny central lego figures that they can keep. Detail is everything.

“Whatever else is taken from you, memories are there for ever.”

The wedding vows are tweaked to include Levi and Lucas, said Michael, and wedding music will feature Always and Forever by Luther Vandross. The wedding ‘car’ will be the A-Team van from the television series (Paul’s favourite), but the cake is to be a surprise from a friend - even to the happy couple!

“We honestly doubt that if our story hadn’t received the media attention it did that the government legislation needed for us to get married would even be in place now,” said Paul.

“We are indebted to Zoe Round of Irwin Mitchell for the work she did and the pressure applied by the judicial review.”

The men will have their civil partnership years legally added to their marriage, enabling them to mark their anniversaries. Originally they hoped to marry on March 31, 2014, when it first became legal for same-sex couples to do so.

FACTFILE:

Same-sex marriages became legal on March 29 2014.

Gay marriage differs from a civil partnership in that civil partnerships are exclusively for same-sex couples.

Northern Ireland has no plans to allow gay marriage.

The law prohibits the Church of England from performing same-sex weddings, and allows other religious organisations to refuse to perform them.

No religious organistion or individual minister will be forced to marry same-sex couples.

In 2004 the Civil Partnership Act was passed and came into effect in December 2005.

It created civil partnerships, which gave same-sex couples who entered into them the same rights and responsibilities of marriage